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"Rule 34" now on sale

US Rule 34 cover (clickthru to Amazon.com)UK Rule 34 cover (clickthru to Amazon.co.uk)

I'm getting reports of "Rule 34" being mailed out by Amazon.co.uk and showing up in bookshops. So it's finally on sale!

(Well, this is the official publication week ... Tuesday in the US, Thursday in the UK, but some early leakage is normal. Especially as tomorrow is some sort of public holiday in the US, so those Amazon orders won't be delivered before Tuesday.)

Where you can buy it

Amazon US: [ Hardcover edition ][ US Kindle edition ]

Powell's US: [ Hardcover edition ]

Amazon UK: [ Trade paperback edition ][ UK Kindle edition ]

Signed copies: Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh currently have signed copies of "Rule 34" and can ship them internationally. For details, email Transreal Fiction.

UPDATE: Yes, I know about amazon.ca's Kindle store problem. Ace have been told, and are going to fix it.

... Or read the first three chapters below

1. LIZ: Red Pill, Blue Pill

It's a slow Tuesday afternoon, and you're coming to the end of your shift on the West End control desk when Sergeant McDougall IMs you: INSPECTOR WANTED ON FATACC SCENE.

"Jesus fucking Christ," you subvocalize, careful not to let it out aloud—the transcription software responds erratically to scatology, never mind eschatology—and wave two fingers at Mac's icon. You can't think of a reasonable excuse to dump it on D. I. Chu's shoulders when he comes on shift, so that's you on the spot: you with your shift-end paper-work looming, an evening's appointment with the hair salon, and your dodgy gastric reflux.

You push back your chair, stretch, and wait while Mac's icon pulses, then expands. "Jase. Talk to me."

"Aye, mam. I'm on Dean Park Mews, attendin' an accidental death, no witnesses. Constable Berman was first responder, an' she called me in." Jase pauses for a moment. There's something odd about his voice, and there's no video. "Victim's cleaner was first on the scene, she had a wee panic, then called 112. Berman's got her sittin' doon with a cuppa in the living room while I log the scene."

What he isn't saying is probably more important than what he is, but in these goldfish-bowl days, no cop in their right mind is going to say anything prejudicial over an evidence channel. "No ambulance?" You prod. "Have you opened an HSE ticket already?"

"Ye ken a goner when ye see wan." McDougall's Loanhead accent comes out to play when he's a tad stressed. "I didna want to spread this'un around, skipper, but it's a two-wetsuit job. I don' like to bug you, but I need a second opinion . . ."

Wow, that's something out of the ordinary. A two-wetsuit job means kinky beyond the call of duty. You look at the map and see his push-pin. It's easy walking distance, but you might as well bag a ride if there's one in the shed. "I was about to go off shift. If you can you hold it together for ten minutes, I'll be along."

"Aye, ma'am."

You glance sideways across the desk. Sergeant Elvis—not his name, but the duck's arse fits his hair-style—is either grooving to his iPod or he's really customized his haptic interface. You wave at him, and he looks up. "I've got to head out, got a call," you say, poking the red-glowing hover-fly case number across the desktop in his direction. He nods, catches it, and drags it down to his dock. "I'm off duty in ten, so you're holding the fort. Ping me if anything comes up."

Elvis bobs his head, then does something complex with his hands. "Yessir, ma'am. I'll take care of things, you watch me." Then he drops back into his cocoon of augmented reality. You can see him muttering under his breath, crooning lyrics to a musically themed interface. You sigh, then reach up, tear down the control room, wad it up into a ball of imaginary paper, and shove it across to sit in his dock. There's a whole lot more to shift-end handover than that, but something tells you that McDougall's case is going to take priority. And it's down to the front desk to cadge a ride.




It's an accident of fate that put you on the spot when Mac's call came in; fate and personnel allocation policy, actually: all that, and politics beside.

You don't usually sit in on the West End control centre, directing constables to shoplifting scenes and chasing hit-and-run cyclists. Nominally you're in charge of the Rule 34 Squad: the booby-prize they gave you for backing the wrong side in a political bun-fight five years ago.

But policing is just as prone to management fads as any other profession, and it's Policy this decade that all officers below the rank of chief inspector must put in a certain number of Core Community Policing hours on an annual basis, just to keep them in touch with Social Standards (whatever they are) and Mission-Oriented Focus Retention (whatever that is). Detective inspector is, as far as Policy is concerned, still a line rank rather than management.

And so you have to drag yourself away from your office for eight hours a month to supervise the kicking of litter-lout ass from the air-conditioned comfort of a control room on the third floor of Fettes Avenue Police HQ. It could be worse: At least they don't expect you to pound the pavement in person. Except Jason McDougall has called you out to do some rare on-site supervision on—

A two-wetsuit job.

Back in the naughty noughties a fifty-one-year-old Baptist minister was found dead in his Alabama home wearing not one but two wet suits and sundry bits of exotic rubber underwear, with a dildo up his arse. (The cover-up of the doubly-covered-up deceased finally fell before a Freedom of Information Act request.)

It's not as if it's like isnae well-known in Edinburgh, city of grey stone propriety and ministers stern and saturnine (with the most surprising personal habits). But propriety—and the exigencies of service under the mob of puritanical arseholes currently in the ascendant in Holyrood—dictates discretion. If Jase is calling it openly, it's got to be pretty blatant. Excessively blatant. Tabloid grade, even.

Which means

Enough of that. Let's see if we can blag a ride, shall we?




"Afternoon, Inspector. What can I do for ye?"

You smile stiffly at the auxiliary behind the transport desk: "I'm looking for a ride. What have you got?"

He thinks for a moment. "Two wheels, or four?"

"Two will do. Not a bike, though." You're wearing a charcoal grey skirt suit and the police bikes are all standard hybrids, no step-through frames. It's not dignified, and in these straitened times, your career needs all the dignity it can get. "Any segways?"

"Oh aye, mam, I can certainly do one of those for ye!" His face clears, and he beckons you round the counter and into the shed.

A couple of minutes later you're standing on top of a Lothian and Borders Police segway, the breeze blowing your hair back as you dodge the decaying speed pillows on the driveway leading past the stables to the main road. You'd prefer a car, but your team's carbon quota is low, and you'd rather save it for real emergencies. Meanwhile, you take the path at a walk, trying not to lean forward too far.

Police segways come with blues and twos, Taser racks and overdrive: But if you go above walking pace, they invariably lean forward until you resemble a character in an old Roadrunner cartoon. Looking like Wile E. Coyote is undignified, which is not a good way to impress the senior management whether or not you're angling for promotion, especially in the current political climate. (Not that you are angling for promotion, but . . . politics.) So you ride sedately towards Comely Bank Road, and the twitching curtains and discreet perversions of Stockbridge.

Crime and architecture are intimately related. In the case of the red stone tenements and Victorian villas of Morningside, it's mostly theft from cars and burglary from the aforementioned posh digs. You're still logged in as you ride past the permanent log-jam of residents' Chelsea Tractors—those such as live here can afford to fill up their hybrid SUVs, despite the ongoing fuel crunch—and the eccentric and colourful boutique shops. You roll round a tight corner and up an avenue of big stone houses with tiny wee gardens fronting the road until you reach the address Sergeant McDougall gave you.

Here's your first surprise: It's not a tenement or a villa—it's a whole town house, three stories high and not split for multiple occupancy. It's got to be worth something north of half a million, which in these deflationary times is more than you'll likely earn in the rest of your working life. And then there's your next surprise: When you glance at it in CopSpace, there's a big twirling red flag over it, and you recognize the name of the owner. Shit.

CopSpace—the augmented-reality interface to all the accumulated policing and intelligence databases around which your job revolves—rots the brain, corroding the ability to rote-memorize every villain's face and back story. But you know this guy of old: He's one of the rare memorable cases.

You ride up to the front door-step and park. The door is standing ajar—Jase is clearly expecting company. "Police," you call inside, scanning the scene. High hall ceiling, solid oak doors to either side, traditional whitewashed walls and cornice-work and maroon ceiling. Someone's restored this town house to its early-nineteenth-century splendour, leaving only a handful of recessed LED spots and covered mains sockets to remind you which century you're standing in.

A constable sticks her head around the door at the end of the hall. "Ma'am?" CopSpace overlays her with a name and number: berman, margaret, pc1022. Medium build, blond highlights, and hazel-nut eyes behind her specs. "Sergeant McDougall's in the bathroom upstairs: I'm taking a statement from the witness. Are you here to take over?" She sounds anxious, which is never a good sign in Lothian and Borders' finest.

You do a three-sixty as Sergeant McDougall comes to the top of the stairs: "Aye, skipper?" He leans over the banister. "You'll be wanting to see what's up here . . ."

"Wait one," you tell Berman. Then you take the stairs as fast as you can.

Little details stick in your mind. The picture rails in the hall (from which hang boringly framed prints depicting the city as it might once have looked), the discreet motion detectors and camera nodes in the corners of the hall ceiling. The house smells clean, sterile, as if it's been mothballed and bubble-wrapped. Jase takes a step back and gestures across the landing at an open door through which enough afternoon daylight filters that you can see his expression. You whip your specs off, and after a momentary pause, he follows suit. "Give me just the executive summary," you tell him.

McDougall nods tiredly. Thirtyish, sandy-haired, and built like a rugby prop, he could be your classic recruiter's model for community policing. "Off the record," he says—on the record, in the event one of your head cams is still snooping, or the householder's ambient lifelogging, or a passing newsrag surveillance drone, or God: But at least it serves notice of intent to invoke the Privacy Act—"This'n's a stoater, boss. But it looks like 'e did it to 'isself, to a first approximation."

You take a deep breath and nod. "Okay, let's take a look." You clip your specs back on and follow Jase into the bathroom of the late Michael Blair, esq., also known as Prisoner 972284.

The first thing you clock is that the bathroom's about the size of an aircraft hangar. Slate tile floor, chrome fittings and fixtures, expensively curved-glass shower with a bar-stool and some kind of funky robot arm to scoosh the water-jet right up your fanny—like an expensive private surgery rather than a temple of hygiene. About the stainless steel manacles bolted to the wall and floor inside the shower cubicle we'll say no more. It is apparent that for every euro the late Michael Blair, esq. spent on his front hall, he spent ten on the bathroom. But that's just the beginning, because beyond the shower and the imported Japanese toilet seat with the control panel and heated bumrest, there stands a splendid ceramic pedestal of a sink—one could reasonably accuse the late Mr. Blair of mistaking overblown excess for good taste—and then a steep descent into lunacy.

Mikey, as you knew him before he became (the former) Prisoner 972284, is lying foetal on the floor in front of some kind of antique machine the size of a washer/dryer. It's clearly a plumbing appliance of some kind, enamelled in pale green trimmed with chrome, sprouting pipes capped with metal gauges and thumb-wheels that are tarnished down to their brass cores, the metal flowers of a modernist ecosystem. The letters CCCP and a red enamel star feature prominently on what passes for a control panel. Mikey is connected to the aforementioned plumbing appliance by a sinuous, braided-metal pipe leading to a chromed tube, which is plugged straight into his—

Jesus. It is a two-wetsuit job.

You glance at Jase. "Tell me you haven't touched anything?"

He nods, then adds, "I canna speak for the cleaner, ma'am."

"Okay, logged."

You walk around the corpse carefully, scanning with your specs and muttering a continuous commentary of voice tags for the scene stream. Michael Blair, esq.—age 49, weight 98 kilos, height 182 centimetres, brown hair (thinning on top, number two cut rather than comb-over)—has clearly been dead for a few hours, going by his body temperature. Middle-aged man, dead on bathroom floor: face bluish, eyes bulging like he's had an aortic aneurysm. That stuff's modal for Morningside. It's the other circumstances that are the issue.

Mikey is mostly naked. You suppose "mostly" is the most appropriate term, because he is wearing certain items that could pass for "clothed" in an SM club with a really strict dress code: black bondage tape around wrists and ankles, suspender belt and fishnets, and a ball gag. His veined cock is purple and engorged, as hard as a truncheon. That, and the hose up his arse and the puddle of ming he's leaking, tell you all you need to know. Which is this: You're going to miss your after-work hairdresser's appointment.

"Call SOC, I want a full scene work-up. I want that thing—"you gesture at the Cold-War-era bathroom nightmare—"taken in as evidence. The fluid, whatever, get it to forensics for a full report: Ten to one there's something dodgy in it." You look him in the eye. "Sorry, Jase, but we're gannae be working late on this."

"Aw shite, Liz."

Aw shite indeed: With a sinking feeling, you realize what's up. Jase was hoping you'd take it off his plate, eager-beaver ready to grab an opportunity to prove your chops in front of head office so he can go home to his end-of-shift paper-work and wind down. Well, it's not going to happen quite like that. You are going to take it off his plate—as duty DI, it's your job. But that's not the end of the game.

"You've got to ask where all this"—your gesture takes in the town house around you—"came from? And I find the circumstances of his death highly suggestive. Until we can rule out foul play, I'm tagging this as probable culpable homicide, and until CID move in and take over, you're on the team. At least one other person was involved—unless you think he trussed himself up then slipped and fell on that thing—and I want to ask them some questions."

"Reet, reet." He takes your point. Sighing lugubriously, he pulls out his phone and prepares to take notes. "You said he's got form?"

You nod. "The conviction's spent: You won't see it in CopSpace without criminal intelligence permissions. He did five years in Bar-L and forfeiture of proceeds of crime to the tune of 2 million euros, if I remember the facts correctly. Illegal online advertising and sale of unlicensed pharmaceuticals. That was about six years ago, and he went down for non-violent, and I don't think he's currently a person of interest." You pause. "The housekeeper found him, right? And the security contractors—"

"'E's with Group Four. I served 'em a disclosure notice, and they coughed to one visitor in the past two hours—the cleaner."

"Two hours?"

"Aye, they was swithering on aboot privacy and confidentiality an' swore blind they couldna give me oot more'n that." He looks at you hopefully. "Unless you want to escalate . . . ?"

"You bet I will." Getting data out of sources like home-monitoring services gets easier with seniority: The quid pro quo is that you need to show reasonable cause. Luckily cause doesn't get much more reasonable than a culpable homicide investigation. You glance at Mikey again. Poor bastard. Well, maybe not. He went down as a non-violent offender but did his time under Rule 45, like he was a kiddie-fiddler or a snitch or something similar. For good reason: Something similar is exactly what he was.

You walk towards the door, talking. "Let's seal the room. Jase, I want you to call Sergeant"—Elvis, your memory prompts—"Sorensen, and tell him we've got a probable culpable homicide I want to hand off to the X Division duty officer. Next, call SOC, and tell them we've got a job. I'm going downstairs to talk to Mags and the witness. If you get any serious pushback or queries from up the greasy pole, point them at me, but for the next fifteen minutes, I want you to run interference."

The next fifteen minutes is likely to be your entire quota of face time with the witness before a blizzard of virtual paper-work descends on your head—that's why you're leaning on Jase. And you really want a chance to get your head around what's going on here, before the regulars from X Division—the Criminal Investigation Department, as opposed to your own toytown fiefdom (which is laughably a subsidiary of theirs, hence the "D" in front of your "I")—take the stiff with the stiffy off your plate.

It's a dead certainty that when the shit hits the fan, this case is going to go political. You're going to have Press Relations and Health and Safety crawling all over you simply because it happened on your watch, and you were the up-and-coming officer who put Mikey in pokey back when you had a career ladder to climb. Not to mention the fact that something has twitched your non-legally-admissible sixth sense about this whole scene: You've got a nasty feeling that this might go beyond a mere manslaughter charge.

Mikey was a spammer with a specialty in off-licence medication. And right now you'd bet your cold overdue dinner that, when Forensics return that work-up on the enema fluid from the colonic irrigation machine, it'll turn out to be laced with something like Viagra.




Shock, disgust, and depression.

You are indeed late home for your tea, as it happens—and never mind the other appointment. Michael Blair, esq., has shafted you from beyond the—well, not the grave, at least not yet: But you don't need to mix the metaphor to drink the cocktail, however bitter. So you're having a bad hair day at the office tomorrow, and never mind the overtime.

Doubtless Jase is going home to his wife and the bairns, muttering under his breath about yet another overtime claim thanks to the ball-breaking politically oriented inspector who disnae ken her career's over yet; or maybe not. (He's still young: born to a couple of ravers after the summer of love, come of age just in time to meet Depression 2.0 head-on. They're a very different breed from the old-timers.) And on second thoughts, maybe he's a wee bit smug as well—being first on scene at a job like this will probably keep him in free drinks for years to come.

But in the final analysis your hair-do and his dinner don't signify. They're unimportant compared to the business at hand, a suspicious death that's going to make newsfeeds all over the blogosphere. Your job right now is to nail down the scene ready for CID to take over. There's a lot to do, starting with initializing the various databases and expert systems that will track and guide the investigation—HOLMES for evidence and case management, BOOTS for personnel assignment, VICTOR for intelligence oversight—calling in the support units, preventing further contamination of the evidence, and acting as first-response supervisor. And so you do that.

You go down to the kitchen—sterile, ultra-modern, overflowing with gizmos from the very expensive bread-maker (beeping forlornly for attention) to the cultured meat extruder (currently manufacturing chicken sans egg)—where you listen to the housekeeper; Mrs. Sameena Begum, middle-aged and plump and very upset, wringing her hands in the well-appointed kitchen: In all my years I have never seen anything like it. You nod sympathetically and try to draw out useful observations, but alas, she isn't exactly CID material.

After ten minutes and fifty seconds, Jase can no longer draw off the incoming flak and begins forwarding incoming calls. You make your excuses, send PC Berman to sit with her, then go outside and start processing a seemingly endless series of sitrep requests from up and down the food-chain.

An eternity later, Chief Inspector MacLeish from CID turns up. Dickie's followed by a vanload of blue-overalled SOCOs and a couple of freelance video bloggers. After another half-hour of debriefing, you finally get to dump your lifelog to the evidence servers, hand over the first-responder baton, finish your end-of-shift wiki updates and hand-offs, and head for home. (The segway, released from duty, will trundle back to the station on its own.)

The pavement smells of feral honeysuckle, grass, and illegal dog shit. You notice cracked concrete slabs underfoot, stone walls to either side. Traffic is light this evening, but you have to step aside a couple of times to dodge kamikaze Edinburgh cyclists on the pavement—no lights, helmets, or heed for pedestrians. It's almost enough to make you pull your specs on and tag them for Traffic—almost. But you're off duty, and there's a rule for that: a sanity clause they added to Best Practice guidelines some years ago that says you're encouraged to stop being a cop the moment you log out.

They brought that particular guide-line in to try and do something about the alarming rise in burn-out cases that came with CopSpace and the other reality-augmentation initiatives of the Revolution in Policing Affairs that they declared a decade ago. It doesn't always work—didn't save your civil partnership in the end—but you've seen what happens to your colleagues who fail to ring-fence their professional lives. That way lies madness.

(Besides, it's one of the ticky-boxes they grade you on in Learning and Development/Personal Welfare/Information Trauma Avoidance. How well you let go and connect back with what the folks writing the exams laughably call the real world. And if you fail, they'll downgrade you on Emotional Intelligence or some other bullshit non-performance metric, and make you jump through some more training hoops. The beatings will continue until morale improves.)

It hasn't always been thus. Back before the 1990s, policing used to be an art, not a science, floundering around in the opaque darkness of the pre-networked world. Police officers were a breed apart—the few, the proud, defenders of law and order fighting vainly to hold back a sea of filth lapping at the feet of a blind society. Or so the consensus ran in the cosy after-hours pub lock-in, as the old guard reinforced their paranoid outlook with a pie and a pint and stories of the good old days. As often as not a career on the beat was the postscript to a career in the army, numbing the old combat nerves . . . them and us with a vengeance, and devil take the hindmost.

It all changed around the time you were in secondary school; a deluge of new legislation, public enquiries, overturned convictions, and ugly miscarriages of justice exposed the inadequacies of the old system. A new government and then a new culture of intelligence-driven policing, health and safety guide-lines, and process quality assurance arrived, promising to turn the police into a shiny new engine of social cohesion. That was the police force you'd studied for and then signed up to join—modern, rational, planned, there to provide benign oversight of an informed and enabled citizenry rather than a pasture for old war-horses.

And then the Internet happened: and the panopticon society, cameras everywhere and augmented-reality tools gobbling up your peripheral vision and greedily indexing your every spoken word on duty. Globalization and EU harmonization and Depression 2.0 and Policing 3.0 and another huge change of government; then semi-independence and another change of government, slogans like Reality-Based Policing gaining traction, and then Standards-Based Autonomous Policing—back to the few, the proud, doing it their own way (with permanent surveillance to log their actions, just in case some jakey on the receiving end of an informal gubbing is also lifelogging on his mobie, and runs screeching about police brutality to the nearest ambulance chaser).

Sometime in the past few years you learned a dirty little secret about yourself: that the too-tight spring that powered your climb through the ranks has broken, and you just don't care anymore.

Let's have a look at you, shall we? Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh, age 38. Born in Newcastle, went to a decent state grammar school: university for a BSc in Crime and Criminology in Portsmouth, then graduate entry into Lothian and Borders Police on Accelerated Promotion Scheme for Graduates, aged 22. Passed your Diploma in Police Service Leadership and Management, aged 25. Passed sergeant's exam, aged 27. MSc in Policing, Policy, and Leadership, aged 29. Moved sideways into X Division, Criminal Investigations, as detective sergeant, aged 29. Aged 31: passed inspector's exam, promotion to Detective Inspector. Clearly a high-flyer! And then . . .

If it had all gone according to your career plan—the Gantt chart you drew by hand and taped to your bedroom wall back when you were nineteen and burning to escape—you'd be a chief inspector by now, raising your game to aim for the heady heights of superintendent and the sunlit uplands of deputy chief constable beyond. But no plan of battle survives contact with the enemy, and time is the ultimate opponent. In the case of your career, two decades have conducted as efficient a demolition of your youthful goals as any artillery barrage.

It turns out you left something rather important off your career plan: for example, there's no ticky-box on the diagram for HAVING A LIFE—TASK COMPLETED. And so you kept putting it off, and de-prioritized it, and put it off again until the law of conservation of shit-stirring dragged it front and centre and lamped you upside yer heid, as your clients might put it.

Which is why you're walking to the main road where you will bid for a microbus to carry you to the wee flat in Clermiston which you and Babs bought on your Key Worker Mortgage . . . where you can hole up for the evening, eat a microwave meal, and stare at the walls until you fall asleep. And tomorrow you'll do it all over again.

Keep taking the happy pills, Liz. It's better than the alternative.



Chapter 2: ANWAR: Job Interview

Four weeks earlier . . .

In the end, it all boils down to this: You'd do anything for your kids. Anything. So: Does this make you a bad da?

That's what Mr. Webber just pointed out to you—rubbed your nose in, more like—leaning forward in his squeaky office chair and wagging the crooked index finger of righteousness.

"I say this more in sorrow than in anger, Anwar"—that's how he eases himself into one of the little sermons he seems to get his jollies from. You're the odd one out in his regular client case-load, coming from what they laughably mistake for a stable family background: you're not exactly Normal for Neds. So he harbours high hopes of adding you to the twelve-month did-not-reoffend column on his departmental report, and consequently preaches at you during these regular scheduled self-criticism sessions. As if you didn't get enough of that shite from Aunt Sameena already: You've already got it off by heart. So you nod apologetically, duck your head, and remember to make eye contact just like the NLP book says, exuding apologetic contrition and remorse until your probation officer drowns in it.

But Mr. Webber—fat, fiftyish, with a framed row of sheepskins proclaiming his expertise in social work lined up on the wall behind him—might just have got your number down with a few digits more precision than you'd like to admit. And when he said, I know you want to give Naseem and Farida the best start in life you can afford, but have you thought about the kind of example you're setting them?—It was a palpable strike, although the target it struck wasn't perhaps quite the one Mr. Webber had in mind.

He must have seen something in your expression that made him think he'd got through to you, so rather than flogging the dead horse some more, he shovelled you out of his office, with a stern admonition to send out more job applications and email a progress report to him next Thursday. He didn't bother giving you the usual social-worker crap about seeking a stable life-style—he's already clocked that you've got one, if not that it's so stable you're asphyxiating under the weight of it. (See: Not Normal for Neds, above.)

And so you duck your head and tug your non-existent forelock and shuffle the hell out of the interview suite and away from the probation service's sticky clutches—until your next appointment.




It is three on a Thursday afternoon, and you're out of your weekly probation interview early. You've got no job to go to, unless you count the skooshy piecework you've been doing on your cousin Tariq's dating website—using his spare pad and paid for in cash, which you are careful to forget about when discussing income opportunities with Mr. Webber and his colleagues—and you've not got the guts to go home to Bibi and the weans in midafternoon and hang around while she cooks dinner in that eloquently expressive silence she's so good at, which translates as when are you going to get a real job? It's not like you've been out of Saughton long enough to get your legs back under the table anyway; and on top of that, you're not supposed to use a network device without filling out a bunch of forms and letting Mr. Webber's nice technical-support people bug it (which would tend to rule out your usual forms of employment, at least for the nonce).

Which can mean only one thing: It's pub time.

To be a Muslim living in Scotland is to be confronted by an existential paradox, insofar as Scotland has pubs the way Alabama has Baptist churches. Everyone worships at the house of the tall fount, and it's not just about drinking (although a lot of that goes on). Most of the best jobs you've ever had came from a late-night encounter at the pub—and paid work, too, for that matter. You're not a good Muslim—in fact you're a piss-poor one, as your criminal record can attest—but some residual sense of shame prompts you to try and keep the bad bits of your life well away from the family home. Compartmentalization, Mr. Webber would call it. Anyway, you figure that as long as you avoid the fermented fruit of the vine, you're not entirely doing it wrong: The Prophet said nothing against Deuchars IPA, did he?

The more devout and twitchy-curtained neighbours don't know anything about your private life, and you want to keep it that way: Our neighbour Anwar, he's a good family man, they say. And if you want the free baby-sitters and community bennies, you'd better keep it that way. So you are discreet: You avoid the local boozers and are at pains never to go home with beer or worse on your breath. Which is why you go about your business in a snug little pub that sits uphill from the top of Easter Road, close by the Royal Terrace Gardens, for a wee outing afterwards.

Of course, going to the pub is not wholly risk-free. For starters there's your phone, set to snitch on your location to the Polis—and if they call, you'd better be there to give them a voiceprint. (It's not like you can leave it at home: You've done the custodial part of your sentence, but you're still under a supervision order, and carrying a phone is part of the terms and conditions, just like wearing a leg tag used to be.)

Your phone copies them on everything you text or read online, and you heard rumours when you were inside—that the Polis spyware could recognize keywords like "hash" or "dosh." You figure that's just the kind of stupid shite paranoid jakies make up to explain why they got huckled for shoplifting on their second day out of prison—but you can't prove it isn't so, which is why you keep a dirty sock rolled over the phone's lower half. (And your real phone is a pay-as-you-go you got Bibi to buy you "for the job hunting.")

But anyway: pub time.

You're in the back room, surfing on a pad borrowed from the bar as you work your way down your second pint, when the Gnome materializes at your left elbow with a pot of wheat beer and a gleam in his eye. "Good afternoon to you, Master Hussein! Mind if I join you?" The Gnome is a vernacular chameleon: Going by his current assumed accent—plummy cod upper-class twit—you figure he's in an expansive mood.

You nod warily. The Gnome is not your friend—he's nobody's friend but his own—but you understand him well enough, and he's interesting company. You've even spent a couple of relaxing afternoons in his bed, although he's not really your type. "Bent as a seven-bob note," the Cardinal pronounced him when the subject of trust came up in conversation: "Yes, but he disnae get caught," you pointed out. On paper, he's a fine, upstanding member of the community; despite looking like the personification of Uncle Fester cosplay fandom, he even managed to get himself elected as town councillor in some deity-forsaken hole in Galashiels. (Probably on the Hairy Twat vote. You can persuade the remaining students at Herriot-Watt's out-of-town campus to vote for anything if you get them drunk enough, and there's precious little else to do out there but drink.) "Have a seat."

The Gnome sighs appreciatively and smacks his lips, then sits in contemplation of his beer for a minute or two. "What brings you to my office today?"

"The usual." You frown. The Gnome claims to work for the university computer-science department, on some big make-work scheme called ATHENA, but he seems to spend most of his time in the back rooms of pubs: You figure he's most likely working on his own side projects. (He maintains that nobody can earn a full-time living in academia anymore, and who's to say he's wrong?) "I've just had my weekly sermon, and I don't need a second serving right now."

The Gnome chuckles, a quiet hiccuping noise like a vomiting cat. "I take your point." He necks another mouthful of beer. "And is business good?"

"Don't be daft, Adam." You switch off the pad. "I've only been out two months; my mobie's running six different kinds of Polis spyware, and I can't even surf for porn without official permission. What do you think business is like?"

The Gnome looks duly thoughtful. "What you need is a line of work that is above reproach," he declares after a while. "A business that you can conduct from a cosy wee office, that is of such utter respectability that if they're getting on your tits, you can complain about how shocked, shocked! you are, and they'll back off."

"I couldna hack the law courseware you pointed me at," you remind him. "And besides, I've got a record now."

He's shaking his head. "No. No-no-no. I was thinking . . ." He cocks his head on one side, as he does when he's hatching one of his malicious little schemes. "I was thinking, how would you like to be an honorary consul?"

"A what?" Visions of a residence on Calton Road and a shiny black BMW hybrid with diplomatic plates clash confusingly with your gut-deep sense that such a scam is beyond even the admittedly impressive grifting capabilities of the Gnome. "Don't be silly, I was born over here, I don't even hold dual Pakistani citizenship—"

"You don't understand." He takes your wrist. His fingers are clammy from his beer glass: "Let me explain. You don't need to be a native. You just need to be a fine upstanding citizen with an office and enough time to attend to the needs of visiting nationals. The high heid yins all have proper embassies staffed by real diplomats, but there are plenty of small players . . . play-states, just like Scotland's a play-state, hived off the old Union for the extra vote in the council of ministers in Brussels and some plausible deniability in the budget. The deal is, we find some nowhere country that can only afford a proper embassy in London or Brussels, if that. They issue you with a bunch of papers and an official phone, and you're on call to help out when one of their people gets into a spot of bother over here. If you're really lucky, they'll pay you an honorarium and the office rent." He winks; the effect is inexpressibly horrifying.

"Get away with you!" You take another mouthful of beer. "You're winding me up."

"No, lad, I'm serious."

"Serious?"

He chugs his pint and smacks his lips. You roll your eyes: You recognize a shakedown when you see one. "Mine's a Hoegaarden," he says, utterly unapologetic.

Five minutes later, you get back from the bar and plant his new pint in front of him. "Spill it."

"What, the beer"—he kens you're not amused and shrugs, then takes an exploratory sip. "All right, the job. I have a mutual acquaintance who happens to work for a, shall we say, small player's diplomatic service as a freelance contractor. They're a very new small player, and they're hiring honorary consuls for the various Euro sub-states—"

You've had enough of this bullshit. "Do I look like I was born yesterday?"

"No." His brow wrinkles. "Here's the thing: Issyk-Kulistan is a very new state. It used to be part of Kyrgyzstan, but five months ago there was a vote on independence, and they seceded, with official recognition . . ." You stare at him. The Gnome has a warped sense of humour, but he's not crazy. He's got dozens of fingers in scores of pies, some of them seasoned with very exotic spices. And right now he's got that intense brow-wrinkling expression he gets on his gizz when he's desperately serious, or trying to pinch a jobbie in the lav. He's droning on: "No budget to speak of, but they're soliciting recommendations. The angle is, they're dirt-poor—all they've got is a played-out gas field and a bunch of collective farms. Their capital city's smaller than Stirling; in fact, the whole country's got the same population as Edinburgh. I believe the real story is that Issyk-Kulistan was let go by Kyrgyzstan because unemployment's around 40 per cent and the big man in Bishkek wanted an excuse to cut their bennies. Think of it as national downsizing, Anwar—Kyrgyzstan's got a budget deficit, so what are they going to do? Cut overheads! Anyway, the Independent Republic of Issyk-Kulistan can't afford a real diplomatic corps. Indeed, there's probably nae cunt from Karakol in the whole of Scotland. Or Latvia, Iceland, or Moldova, for that matter. Which is the reason—"

You look the Gnome in the eye and utter three fateful words: "Adam: Why. Me?"

What follows is blether: masterful blether, erudite and learned blether, but blether nonetheless. You swallow his flannelling. It's all sound and fury, signifying naught; but you've got a scooby that there's more to this than reaches the eye. The Gnome knows you, and he wants someone he knows in that shiny black diplomatic limo with the IRIK plates, which means he's got some kind of caper in mind. And you know Adam, and you know this about him: He may be bent as a seven-euro note, but he disnae get caught. Ever.

Which is why . . .




Three days later, you are certain you're about to die.

You are twenty-eight years old and a miserable sinner who has been a bad husband to his long-suffering wife and a terrible father to his two children. (To say nothing of having failed to even think about making the hajj, liking beer and other alcoholic beverages altogether too much, and indulging in such unspeakable perversions with other men that Imam Hafiz would swallow his beard and die of shame if he heard about them). You deserve to die, possibly, probably—for God is Great and he knows exactly what you're thinking—which is probably why he has seen fit to inflict this destiny upon you, seeing you strapped into a business-class seat in an elderly Antonov that rattles and groans as it caroms between clouds like a pinball in the guts of the ultimate high-score game.

The Antonov's cabin is musty and smells of boiled cabbage despite the best efforts of the wheezing air-conditioning pack. Here, up front in business class, the seats are tidy and come with faded antimacassars bearing Aeroflot's livery: But behind your uneasy shoulders sways a curtain, and on the other side of the curtain you swear there is an old lady, headscarf knotted tightly under her chin, clutching a cage full of live chickens. The fowl, being beasts of the air, know exactly what's in store for them—they squawk and cackle like nuns at a wife-swapping party.

The plane drops sickeningly, then stabilizes. There's a crackle from the intercom, then something terse and glottal in Russian. Your phone translates the word from the cockpit: "impact in ten minutes." You're almost certain you can hear the chink of vodka glasses from up front. (The stewardesses haven't shown themselves in hours; they're probably crashed out in the galley, anaesthetized on cheap Afghani heroin.) You yank your seat belt tight, adjust the knot of your tie, and begin to pray. Save me, you think: Just let me walk away from this landing, and I'll give up alcohol for a year! I'll even give up cock, for, for . . . As long as I can. Please don't let the pilots be drunk

There is a sudden downward lurch, a jolt that rattles the teeth in your head, a loud bang, and a screech of tyres. One of the overhead luggage bins has sprung open, and there is an outbreak of outraged clucking from the economy-class area behind the curtain as a small, terrified pig hurtles up the aisle towards the cockpit. Now you see one of the cabin crew, her beret askew as she makes a grab for the unclean animal—she wrinkles her nose, and a moment later a horrible stench informs you that the animal has voided its bowels right in front of the cabin door.

"Bzzzt." Your phone helpfully fails to translate the electronic throat-clearing noise. "Welcome to Issyk-Kul Airport, gateway to the capital of the Independent Republic of Issyk-Kulistan. This concludes today's Aeroflot flight from Manas International Airport, Bishkek. Adhere to your seats until she reaches the terminal building. Temperature on the ground is twenty-nine degrees, relative humidity is 80 per cent, and it is raining."

The Antonov grumbles and jolts across cracked ex-military tarmac, its turboprops snarling rhythmically at the sodden atmosphere. At least it's Aeroflot. You're not a total numpty: You did your leg work before you came here and you know that the local airlines are all banned from European airspace on grounds of safety (or rather, the lack of it). And you're up to date on your shots, thanks to Aunty Sam's abortive attempt to arrange a family reunion in Lahore last year. You also know that the unit of local currency is the som, that it is unsafe to wander round the capital at night, and that your hosts have booked you a room in the Amir Hotel.

The only important bit of local nous you've not got straight is what the capital's called—is it Karakol, or Przewalsk? They change the name whenever there's a coup d'état, as long as there's an "r" in the month. It should be Przewalsk—but how do you pronounce Przewalsk, anyway?

As the airliner taxis the short distance to the stand, you take enough shuddering breaths to get over your conviction that you are about to die—but now a new anxiety takes hold. You've been told you'll be met at the airport, but . . . What do you really know? A dodgy Skype connection and the promise of a car ride: that and five euros will buy you a Mocha Frescato with shaved glacier ice and organic cream to go. For all you know, the Gnome's idea of an amusing jape is to ship your sorry ass to an ex-boy-friend of his who runs a leather bar in Almaty frequented by former US Marines, where they'll steal your passport and tie you face-down to a pommel horse—

You're walking through the humid rain-spattered air towards a terminal building, your shirt sticking to the small of your back. I must have zoned out, you realize nervously. You can't afford to do that: not here, not with the job interview that's coming up. Ahead of you the doors are flung open on a dusty arrivals hall. A porter shuffles past you, leading a motorized baggage trolley out towards the small Antonov. There's a bored-looking crowd just beyond a rope barrier at the far side of the hall, and among them you see a man with an upraised sign: ANWAR HUSSEIN.

"Mr. Hussein?" A broad grin and a bushy salt-and-pepper moustache: firm handshake pumping up and down. "I am Felix Datka." He speaks English with a heavy Russian accent. "Welcome to Przewalsk!" So that's how you pronounce it. "Have you had a good journey from Scotland? Please, let's fetch your suitcase, and I will drive you to your hotel."

You have arrived in the Independent Republic of Issyk-Kulistan. And you relax: because now you know you are among friends.

"And that was the worst part of it," you tell him, wiping your moustache on the back of your wrist.

"It was?" The Gnome blinks rapidly, as if there's a mote in his eye.

"Yes. Once he told the porter to give my suitcase back and we escaped from the pickpockets, or the police—I'm not sure who were which—he had a black Mercedes SUV! Well, it was mostly a Mercedes and mostly black—bits of it were made locally in this car factory they've got that runs on chicken feathers and corn husks or something, and the paint didn't match—" Just like the shite your neighbour Jaxxie runs up on the DRM-hacked fab in his garage—"but from there it was an hour's drive into town, and then dinner in a traditional Kyrgyz restaurant"—actually a McDonald's, after Mr. Datka tipped you the wink that most of the posh restaurants in town were Russian-owned and not halal: But you don't want the Gnome's pity—"the next morning, he picked me up and drove me to the Ministry building. Big concrete slab full of bureaucrats with boxy old computers, sitting around smoking." Your nose wrinkles at the memory.

"The Ministry." The Gnome hums and strokes his chin. "Hmm. Indeed. And how did it go, then?"

"It was a job interview." You shrug. Back in your normal drag, jeans and a sweat-shirt and your favourite Miami Dolphins jacket, it's all mercifully fading into a blur: the stiflingly close air in the aircon-less conference room, you in the monkey suit your cousin Tariq sourced for you from an Indonesian tailoring dotcom, sweating bullets as you tried to answer questions asked in broken English by the bored bureaucrats on the other side of the table. "They asked me lots of questions. How long I'd lived in Embra, what was my citizenship status, what I did, did I have a criminal record, that sort of thing."

"Did you tell them the truth?" The Gnome lays his hand on your knee, very solemnly.

"I lied like a rug." You weren't sweating bullets because of the questions (you realized it was a shoo-in when you clocked you were the only candidate they'd bothered to fly out for the interview): you were sweating bullets because it was hot. Even the criminal-background question was meaningless. If they didn't already know the answer to the question, they weren't networked well enough to detect a lie.

You shrug again: "Who're they going to call, Europol?" You let his hand lie: This is safe space, as safe as it comes, and you're still wound up from the nervous tension of a flight into the unknown. "They flew me to Moscow economy class! Look, you said they've got no money. So what's your angle?"

You don't bother with what's in it for me? because that much is clear. You have got: a bunch of blank passports and a toytown rubber stamp set; a steel-jacketed data key locked to your thumbprint and loaded with encryption certificates; documents telling the government of Scotland that you are hereby authorized to act as the legally responsible consul on behalf of the embassy of the Independent Republic of Issyk-Kulistan to the EU in Brussels; and a corporate credit card. Yes, you've come up in the world. But as you feel the warm weight of the Gnome's hand on your thigh, you can't shift the feeling that there's more to this than him doing one of his on/off boy-friends a favour. You try again. "What's your angle?"

The Gnome sighs. "I wish you wouldn't ask awkward questions," he says, a trifle querulously. "But if you must know, I'll tell you." He leans across the table, and you instinctively lean towards him, until his lips brush your ear. "The angle, dear boy, is money—and how you, and I, and a couple of friends, are going to make a great steaming pile of it. Legally come by, no more and no less—and there'll be nobody to say otherwise." You can feel the heat of his Cheshire-cat grin on your cheek: You can smell his yeasty breath. You lean a bit closer, tensing expectantly. "The pen-pushers in Przewalsk want you for a sparkly consular unicorn. I think that's a grand idea. And I think it would be especially grand if you'd keep me informed of developments, as and when they happen . . ."




TOYMAKER: The Leith Police Dismisseth Us

It's four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon: Have you got somewhere safe to hide?

You're in the shed, guts churning and palms sweating as you set up the run that Gav's put on you for tomorrow.

It's a' the fault of that fucking cunt down at the Cash-For-No-Questions shop on Leith Walk. He wouldn't offer you more than fifty euros for the telly even though you could show him a receipt all legal-like to prove it wisnae hot. And he wouldna even look at your mobie. Or your bike. And the thing is, unless you get your hands on three large by Tuesday, you're getting malkied.

You owe the Operation's tax farmer three hundred euros for Services Rendered: and the Operation disnae take "Noo, ye ken I got knocked back by thi' bastid wot bought it" for an answer. Nor does the Operation play well with "A big boy did it an' ran away", "The dug ate ma hamewurk", or "Pay you next Tuesday?" The Operation's approach to dealing with Intellectual Property Violations is drastic and memorable—you've seen the vid of that yin from Birmingham what crossed them, even signed a fucking contract on paper to say ye kenn't what ye was getting intae. Fact is, you're their fabber franchisee for Pilrig, and if ye couldna keep a float to cover your credit, you shouldna have fucking signed the piece of paper, ye ken?

It's nae your fault you're hard up. There's a recession on, you're long on feedstock, and your car got crushed cos ye couldna afford the insurance after that eppy bastid Tony and his fucking jakey friend ripped off your stash reet after you paid the overdue council tax (it was that or they were gonnae send the sheriff's court officers round; that would never do if them cunts keeked whit you'd hid in the shed). And then fucking Big Malc gouged you for three days' fab time an' gave you a right gubbing when you asked to be paid—

None of which matters, likesay? The Operation's gonnae have their half kilo of flesh.

The shed at the back of your mum's hoose is cramped, dark, and dingy, surrounded by thigh-high grass and weeds land-mined with cat shit from the feral tom what lives next door. You took it over after your old man died, chucked the rusting lawn-mower and ran a mains extension oot the kitchen window—that, an' drilled through the brickwork under the sink and plumbed in a water hose. The fab needs water and power and special feedstock, and lots of 'em; like an old-time cannabis farm, back before they decriminalized it. You tiled the shed roof with stolen polymer PV slates (not that they're good for much this far north of Moscow) and installed shelves to hold your feedstock supplies and spares. It took you a year to scrimp and cadge and steal the parts you needed to bootstrap the hingmy. You could have saved for half that long and bought a shiny wee one in John Lewis, with the DRM and the spyware to stop you making what you will; but if you'd gone down that road, no way would the Toymaker take you on.

Which leaves you needing three big in four days, and nowhere to turn but Gav.

Not that there's aught wrong with the colour of Gav's money, but he's of a kind with Big Malc; a local business man, higher up the food-chain than most of the neds round these parts. There's something of the night about him, and the way he fucking girns without showing his teeth creeps you out, like he's fucking Dracula, likesay? And what Gav wants you to make for him, you really didna wanna get dragged inter that stuff. You could get lifted for this shit, eat some serious prison time, and all for three big? The fucking fuck.

There's a dump down in Seafield with a side-line in homogeneous graded sinter process metal powders; a grocery store who sells interesting polymers disguised as bags of bread flour. Cheap no-name pay-as-you-go data sticks and VPN software that disguises the traffic as noise overlaid on fake voice channels . . . This stuff isn't rocket science anymore, it's not hacking anymore, it's just illegal as hell because it pisses off the Money. The law disnae appreciate the likes of you schemie scum, like the nice security man called you between the second and third drive-tasing, that time they caught you shoplifting in the St. James Quarter. The law especially disna like your kind owning 3D printers, fabbers capable of taking a design template off a pirate website somewhere and extruding it into the real world to an accuracy of a few microns. The good law-abiding folks—they're welcome to run off Rawlplugs and coffee coasters and plastic Nessie tat for their weans. But the Polis don't like unmonitored fabs. They could be making anything: plastic chibs that dinna show up on metal detectors, meth-lab-in-a-brick solid-state drug labs, home-brew handguns—or what Gav is buying.

"Here's the photies," Gav told you in his flat English accent. He seemed to savour the words: "Fifteen shots each of the subject." He slid an ancient memory stick across the table-top towards you, its surface rubbed down to anonymous white plastic by age. You made it disappear hastily. "Stitch 'em up and render the parts to scale—there's a model there. It needs to be ready by Sunday night. Mozzy will pick it up and pay you at six sharp."

"Eh, but ye ken it's a big load of work? It'll take twenty-four hours to fab 'em, likesay?"

"So? You'd better get started. Likesay."

You bite your tongue. He's takin' the pish, but the way he smiles tells you he kens he's got your number. Cunt.

Gav's buying on behalf of someone who'll be really embarrassed if his habit comes out, that you can tell. The stick feels like it's burning a hole in your pocket as you walk home from the pub. The job's simple enough, but if they catch you with it . . .

Someone's been naughty with their phone. They've been taking pictures. Innocent enough, and they've been careful, no upskirt perv service shots that might tip the Polis off; but once they've got enough angles it's over to you (via Gav). There's software that'll stitch together a polygon map from a bunch of images, working out the perspectives and textures from all the angles. And once you've got the skin, you can drop it over a model of a doll and send it to the printer. Which will generate the pieces of a hard plastic skeleton surrounded by textured, colourized, soft plastic skin that the customer can squeeze and suck without any risk of screaming or telling, ready to clip together around servo motors to animate and sensors to react: and the beauty of it is that she'll never know, this four-year-old whose animatronic double is going to star in some paedo's sex life.

Well, it's no' like you can ask Gav: and anyway, you need his money. Otherwise, you won't be able to pay off the Operation.

The fab's still warm from that bampot Malc's job, so you start by stuffing fresh cans of feedstock up its arse—this job's a hybrid, multiple plastics in the same structure and a skeleton made using the special brew that's been doing the rounds these past couple of months. The work-space is clean, and there's no crap lying around from the last run, which is good, and it's big enough that if you twist the model just so, you can make it in one run.

So you cable your laptop up to the fab, stick your special dongle in its side, swipe your thumb print across it for access, and log in to Evil Santa's workshop to download the templates for a bad night out in toytown.




Early afternoon.

You blink yourself awake in gritty-eyed confusion, stirring from sleep on the living-room sofa. You're surrounded by the detritus of a chaotic Saturday night; greasy pizza box upside doon on the carpet, empty tinnies of Zywiek Super rolled under the TV console, game controller dumped in the ash-tray in a confusion of dowts—you swear under your breath: "Jesus Fuck."

Ye didna get to bed in the end; microwave pizza and cheap Polish beer fuelled you on an epic raid in Axe Cop 14. You and the Grief Street Gang tooled up on what's left of your stash of Provigil and chopped seven shades of shit out of the Baby Panda Squad in return for—

For—

Shite. It's three o'fucking clock in the afternoon! Yon cunt Mozzy's gonnae be round in a couple of hours. The fucking fab's gonna be chirping its heart out, feed me, clean me, the usual after job shoe-shaggy it insists on. You gotta get the cargo bagged up and the hell out of your hoose in case that fat twat Mozzy skelps you. You're gonnae plant them underneath an abandoned car in a back alley somewhere, demand the money up front in return for directions, likesay? Not good to be caught out the same way twice.

You roll off the soiled sofa, gurning, and stagger out to the lavvie. The keekin-glass shows you an orc with eyes like red-rimmed piss-holes in a block of lard. Jaxxie, this is your life! Loser, tosser, fabmonkey to the gentry of the night—it's a' there. You look away hastily, stumble out and through the grimy kitchen to the backdoor and the shed.

The shed. You open the door and step inside. First up, you ken it smells wrong. Fabbers have their ain smell; not humming, like, but a goosh of hot plastic and metal. When it's working hard plastic, there's a lot of hot metal, and steam from the chiller circuit. This is like all soft placky. Which is wrong. So you hit the light switch.

Something's gone very wrong with your fabber.

The red supply blinkenlights are pulsing manically across its front, and the lid's come open. Not only that; it's rising on a fucking pillar of multicoloured hingmies pushing their way out of the extrusion cell like a loaf of bread that's risen too far. Fuck, the fucking fucker's fucked! You grab the handle on the lid. A lime green hingmy pops up at you and you clock what it is, and that's when you realize that no, the fucking fucker isnae fucked, it's you what's fucked.

The evidence is all over the screen of your lappie, which, fucking eejit that you are, you left online when you went inside last night.

You grab the lime green plastic dildo. It's an anatomically correct cock, but it's the wrong colour, only about eight centimetres long, and there's something embossed on it—a URL. As you squint at it, another wee plastic cock—this one cherry red—topples off the mound that's rising from the fabber's guts and bounces across the floor. "Jesus fuck." You stare at the lappie in horror. About sixty dozen overlapping windows are warning you that spyware has been detected, inviting you to download an antivirus package from the app store of a fly-by-night scamware vendor in Hainan. You ken it's the same site as the URL on the dildo. "Jesus fuck," you repeat.

It's ransomware, pure and simple.

"Tha' dug ate ma' hamewurk."

Never mind Gav and his minions. Tomorrow you're gonnae meet the Operation's tax farmer, who expects you to pay up for your key to the dark gates of toyland.

Twenty-seven hours to lay your hands on three large. You are so fucked.




Hello.

We interrupt your scheduled browsing to bring you news of an unfortunate incident.

Stuart Jackson, aged twenty-two, a resident of Hamilton Wynd, Leith, has just visited our local business-development executive, the Toymaker—that would be me—to plead for assistance in restructuring his debt.

Perhaps you are thinking that the Operation is unduly harsh in its treatment of defaulters. And it's possible you have some sneaking sympathy for Jaxxie, a secondary-school drop-out struggling to make his way in a cruel and bewildering world that has written him off as being of no conceivable value.

Well, you'd be wrong.

This vale of tears we live in holds a virtually unending supply of Jaxxies, eager neds ready and willing to sell crack to their grannies and jack their neighbours' laptops to pay for the next bottle of Bucky. Jaxxie is distinguished from the rest of them solely by a modicum of low cunning, a propensity for graft, and a minor eye for space-filling structure that—if he had applied himself to his Standards and Baccalaureate—might have found him a place on the rolls of a distance-learning institution and ultimately a ladder up to what passes for a respectable middle-class profession in this degraded age of outsourcing.

But Jaxxie is lazy. Jaxxie disnae enjoy the learnin'. Jaxxie is a petty criminal who pays his way by acting as an outlet for the Toymaker's bottom-tier products. And Jaxxie slept through his Economics classes in school.

As you have doubtless realized by now, the Operation's products are all illegal; this imposes certain regrettable cost externalities on us—you can't buy insurance and police protection for your business if what you manufacture ranges from MDMA labs to clitoridectomy kits.

We have learned over the years that it is necessary to take a stern but honest line with junior franchisees who ask for business-development capital loans, then default on their line of credit. In our world of unregulated free-market enterprise there is no "society" to off-load business externalities like insurance onto, no courts to settle disputes equitably, and no presumption of goodwill.

We have given Jaxxie every opportunity to pay off his debt on time. We even steered business his way—when he was too lazy to get on his bike and look for work—by way of our local salesman, Gav. Despite having a suitable contract dropped in his lap, Jaxxie still managed to drag defeat from the jaws of victory. This is the point at which our patience would normally be exhausted: We are not a welfare scheme, and we cannot afford to continually make allowances for incompetence when it impacts the bottom-line.

But Jaxxie's debt is not substantial. Furthermore, we are aware that he is willing and eager to repay it, and would certainly have done so on time had not "the dug ate ma hamewurk." We are therefore pleased to announce that we are going to exercise the prerogative of mercy on this occasion.

Jaxxie: We hope you will take this punishment, which is intended to teach you a valuable lesson, in the spirit in which it is intended. It may strike you as unpleasant and draconian—but consider the alternatives! We have a franchise relationship model to defend. As it is, your punishment will not hurt much. You'll make a full recovery. And it won't even impair your ability to continue in your chosen profession.

Just don't fuck up and make us come for your other kidney.





Where you can buy it:

Amazon US: [ Hardcover edition ][ US Kindle edition ]

Powell's US: [ Hardcover edition ]

Amazon UK: [ Trade paperback edition ][ UK Kindle edition ]

Signed copies: Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh currently have signed copies of "Rule 34" and can ship them internationally. For details, email Transreal Fiction.

77 Comments

2:

Yup - my copy was shipped out from Spamazon UK at 9:47pm last night (Australian Eastern Standard Time - so 11:47am Saturday morning London time.)

Goody goody - more procrastination!

3:

Nope. Do they have an affiliate scheme?

4:

It's on sale in waterstones in newcastle, but i'm holding off for a couple of weeks until i finish my thesis. it probably wouldn't benefit from several evenings of mainlining rule 34.

However, i've heard that if you're very keen on a particular film, you should really go and see it as soon as it opens, as first weekend box office figures decide how long the film is on general release for, and how successful it's perceived to have been. Does the same sort of thing happen in publishing? Are the short term sales figures of a new release book used as an indication of overall success? i.e. should i go buy it right now?

5:

My Hardback copy from BookDepository is now declared to to be 'dispatched ' ...


" Order No. BDG-434-3545099815 placed 09 Feb 2011 (08:18:11) on BookDepository.co.uk
Order status | Dispatched Delivery: Free worldwide delivery Total order value £12.47


Rule 34
By (author) Charles Stross
Qty: 1

£12.47 Save £4.16 RRP £16.63

Item status Dispatched on 01 Jul 11 "

6:

Are the short term sales figures of a new release book used as an indication of overall success?

Yes, exactly.

(Sales are collated weekly via Bookscan and feed into bestseller charts, which in turn influence how much effort booksellers put into pushing an author's product. So first week sales are quite important.)

7:

i'll go get it tomorrow, then!

...and then attempt to exercise that self control thingie i've heard so much about...

8:

" Do they have an affiliate scheme? " Yes, they do ...


" Welcome to The Book Depository affiliate programme

On this page we introduce you to the basics of The Book Depository.co.uk affiliate scheme. We also have an affiliate programme for The Book Depository.com so if the majority of your visitors are from the US or outlying regions you should sign up to the .com affiliate scheme as each site has regionalised catalogues. You can sign up either scheme if you have international customers. " ....


http://affiliates.bookdepository.co.uk/affiliates/index.php

9:

My copy was delivered on Wednesday (from Amazon.ca), immediately displacing the history of Prussia I'd been reading the night before.

10:

I had pre-ordered, and Amazon shipped it yesterday (2 Jun).

11:

In the US, that is.

12:

Magiced: have them gift-wrap it for you. One more barrier to entry, one more excuse not to dip into it. :)

Now if we could only figure out where to kick amazon so they pre-ship the Kindle ones. :)

13:

It was on sale at Powell's books yesterday (July 2nd), possibly the day before.

14:

Gaagh! Kindle edition still not 'shipping' till the 7th. No fair.

15:

Observed in the wild in Waterstones, Oxford this afternoon (3 July) as part of a 3 for 2 in the SF corner. Tried, briefly, to resist (I have the HB on order from BookDepository) then gave in, justifying on the grounds that I'll now be able to keep the HB nice and clean and safe.

16:

Picked up a copy in Waterstones/HMV at Fort Kinnaird this afternoon. I just can't wait for my Amazon pre-order to ship. I'm sure you don't mind folks buying 2 copies.

17:

My local Waterstone's had BETTER HAVE A COPY .......

18:

I just checked Barnes & Noble's website. They (finally!) have RULE 34 listed for pre-order.

19:

Got myself the UK softcover from Waterstones in Brum this afternoon. Now just need to get the hardcover version...

20:

Oooooo :)

Australian release dates anyone? I still like my fiction over the counter. History geek I will buy online but there is something about physically giving the money to a sweet 20 year old sales gal that brings me back to the shops :D

21:

UPS reports (as of midnight last night) that my copy enroute from Barnes & Noble is "Status Not Updated", which probably means the truck driver swiped it to read before delivering it on Tuesday. Oh, well, back to reading papers on Clifford Algebra.

Which reminds me, off-topically, that I just posted a blog entry with a short introduction to the mathematics of the Many-Angled Ones, aimed at a non-technical audience.

22:

Got it this afternoon. Finished it just now. Loved it.

23:

You might like to buy from a bricks and mortar store Mudcrab, but in Australia that will result in you being ripped off something chronic. Compare and contrast the prices:

http://booko.com.au/books/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=rule+34&commit=Search&product_type=1

As for the 20 year old sales gal, tsk tsk.

Still waiting for the epub myself. I'm not going to add another dead tree to the pile that has to be moved, and I don't want Mr Bezos getting his Kindle sales figures up any further.

24:

Yep, my pre-ordered copy shipped from Amazon US yesterday as well. Should be received by Friday, read with gusto by Sunday evening. Hopefully signed by Mister Charlie Himself at the University Bookstore Tuesday the 26th.

@Charlie: Are you in fact planning to sign books at U Books? Looking forward to sharing oxygen molecules with you.

25:

I believe Orbit will be shipping copies to Aus/NZ -- they're probably already on their way, but in a shipping container that'll take a month to six weeks more to arrive at a port somewhere. (I don't think I'm a big enough fish for them to roll the presses locally.)

26:

@Charlie: Are you in fact planning to sign books at U Books? Looking forward to sharing oxygen molecules with you.

Yes, happy to do so.

27:

... and arrived before I left for work this morning.

(Home Counties England, about 45 minutes drive from the big Amazon distribution depot at Ridgmont which we passed yesterday.)

28:

I have it ordered at a small bookshop and they're holding it for me until I collect it on the way to my holiday destination in a few weeks.

Slightly off-topic: Kindle editions.
I see that Kindle editions are subject to VAT in the UK (at the full rate, AFAIK), whereas physical books are zero-rated. I think that's quite interesting, as it means that digital books aren't officially books. It also means that the government has an incentive to support the sale of digital books over physical ones. I don't know whether that will influence future government policies, but it it may well do.
In the short term, it suggests that profits on Kindle editions are likely to be lower.

29:

Ordered. Waiting. I really wanted to have it on ebook as I'm about to die in a book avalanche any day now, but we have already talked about the non-availability of ebook titles for us non-UK-US guys so...

I just hope I dont need to pester my Scottish coworkers for a quick translation of some parts of it :-P

30:

You'll also find that physical books with bundled electronic media in physical form -- such as a CDROM or DVDROM -- are also VATable at the standard rate.

Only pure dead-tree publications -- magazines, newspapers, and books -- are zero-rated for VAT in the UK.

You are correct about profits on Kindle editions being lower ... in countries where VAT is charged on electronic media (i.e. the EU). The USA is still sales-tax-free for online electronic downloads. The real question is, how long will that last?

31:

My hardback copy arrived in this mornings post. Not bad at all given that the weekend intervened between notification of dispatch and the books arrival and that postal deliveries can be a bit slow just after the weekend in my part of the North East of England.

It looks as if The Book Depository must have imported a consignment of hardbacks of "Rule 34 " to meet their pre-orders. I wonder how this affects sales statistics? After all a consignment bought from the U.S.A. would technically have been sold in the U.S.A.

Anyway its well worth the effort of buying the hardback which is beautifully made and fairly modestly priced even if you disregard the fact that it came ' post free '.

32:

Mine's now in my jacket pocket awaiting home time!

33:

I saw both versions in Amsterdam on Friday (July 1st). I was already over my weekly book quotum so it'll have to wait a bit... And it's competing with new Egan, but I guess I'll go for this one first!

34:

Loved it, Charlie. It was genuinely disturbing in places, I love that in a book.

35:

Barnes & Noble's on 5th Av & 46th St in NYC had it on the shelves a couple of weeks ago. I had originally intended to order the trade paperback from the UK as I prefer paperbacks to hardbacks for hefting around on the train, but over the weekend I decided I couldn't wait and cancelled my UK order and will pick up a copy tomorrow.

36:

Me@35: urk, s/weeks/days/ Doh.

37:

Hi Charlie,

Just a quick question. Have any police-folk ever talked to you about the concepts of BOOTS or CopSpace? If so, what did they think?

38:

Have any police-folk ever talked to you about the concepts of BOOTS or CopSpace?

Nope.

(I did discuss the general ideas under the police side of Halting State with a fairly senior civilian Police IT person, but that's some time ago.)

39:

Any idea when I can get an e-book that's not Kindle? I don't want my books to be owned by amazon...

40:

You won't be able to buy a copy of "Rule 34" that doesn't come with an unwanted side-order of DRM. That's because it's published by Ace and Orbit, aka Penguin and Little, Brown, aka Penguin-Putnam Group and Hachette. It's corporate policy.

Hint: google on "mobidedrm" or "drm-tools" and be prepared to brush up your python skills. They will not go unrewarded.

41:

I purchased Wireless two weeks ago on the strength of the three sample chapters here, and then brought Rule 34 from Waterstones Sheffield on Saturday. Finished reading Sunday PM. Had to ask an assistant, who was apologetic that someone had shelved it under "Crime"!

Are there any lists for general discussion about your work?

42:

I just recently bore witness to an honest to god Stallman talk. While I didn't agree on some of his talking points (=pragmatism==sell out), I do think he is basically right, even if the "bad guy" image does extend as far as Linus, not because LT is fundamentally wrong, but because he is wrong in principle.

If nobody ever cared about HOW we got sold out, well, they WOULD if they ever cared about the extent of it. But then, most of you out there are going to be using "I"-something devices to read this, because it's convenient. Being all of the time fully aware that you're not being censored only on the grounds of content, but much more so for the software you're allowed to use (or not to). I rest my case.

Like I said. RMS is a very convincing speech giver.

Please discontinue using non-FSF-approved devices (like there were a thing like that;-).

43:

My copy arrived yesterday and I ended up getting no sleep as I wanted to finish it. Brilliant read, great work as always.

44:

Mine showed up in London yesterday, via Amazon. They claimed it would arrive on 2 July, but I knew that was a big fat lie.

Congratulations! It must be nice to see it getting out to people.

45:

The Nook book went "live" a bit ago. Oddly enough, my paper bookseller in Berkeley had copies a few days ago and said "they didn't embargo it." So it was already on sale in treeware.

Thank you, Charles. I'm looking forward to diving into it as soon as I can.

46:

Five minutes ago, the postman delivered my copy of "Rule 34" ordered from amazon.de.

47:

Every time you do this, I half expect a team of ninja from the publishers to come, kidnap you and fake your posts.

After all, you are telling us to do something that for some of the executives insisting of DRM crippling everything is tantamount to crime. Well, the mere writing of such a tool seems to be a crime in some places, or so they tell us.

Not that I want you to stop. But is funny. Or deranged. Or just 21th Century :-P

48:

No sign of the hardcover this morning. Also can't seem to find it on my Kindle (USA Store). I need my fix!

49:

amazon.de had been some days ahead, got it at June 25th ... not that I complain about it :-) Thanks for this good book, I really did enjoy it and recommend it to my friends.

50:

"The USA is still sales-tax-free for online electronic downloads."

That may depend on the site being used... for at least the last year, anything I've gotten from B&N, the iBookstore and a couple from Amazon have had sales taxes added... may only be a state-level tax (as opposed to a full Federal level), but they are taxed as well.

Taxing issues aside, looking forward to the book!

51:

Thanks!

52:

The package just arrived at my front door. Now entering communication silence until reading is done.

53:

Spotted at a Barnes & Noble in Honolulu on Saturday July 2. I did not snap it up at that time, but plan to go back for it later.

54:

My local Vancouver, BC, Canada specialty bookstore left msg that my copy had arrived. Just picked it up. Very exciting ...

55:

Charlie, I saw Rule 34 at the B & N here (just outside of Princeton) on the 4th and bought it. I'm up to Part 3 now, and the mystery(?) of ATHENA. Just as good as Halting State!
Should we say the motto of the book is: If you understand it, it's not AI?

56:

Arg.
Oh how I loathe Amazon.
In the UK, one can purchase the TPB version. Yet in the US and Canada, no such option.

No wonder I'm always importing so many books....

57:

The US is not, and never has been, sales tax free in online sales. Amazon and other operations small enough to not have offices in most states don't collect it unless you live in their home state*, but I did pay sales tax on Rule34 from Google eBooks, and would certainly have payed for it through B&N or iBook, since they have physical stores in my state.

*Which means I cheat on my taxes every year when I don't report it and pay the sales tax anyway. This is gonna get hilarious one day when states get desperate enough to go after people for 30$ on the TV they bought.

58:

Downloads were explicitly barred from sales tax for quite a few years; that particular law expired a couple of years ago. Most places still don't have that, but that'll probably change unless federal or state legislatures bar it again.

59:

Charlie has separate publishing contracts in the USA (maybe all of North America?) and the UK.If you don't like the fact that the US publisher hasn't released a TPB version of Rule 34, you need to get onto the publisher's case about it.

60:

Picked up yesterday the hardback (cover with the woman absolutely not to be confused with Lisbeth Salander) at American Book Center here in Amsterdam. Considered trying to get a signed copy, but, well, if yer ever in town, I'll happily stand you a pint of the Swedish smøkybir (or beverage of yer choice) at In De Wildeman, the only bar to survive the Singularity!

61:

I might be in town around the Bokbierfest -- haven't booked yet, though!

62:

I'm not sure that profits can be said to be lower because VAT is charged. As far as Amazon (or any other VAT registered retailer) is concerned, VAT is a "wash-through". The burden of the tax falls on the consumer only, which is in fact the essence of the VAT system.

Amazon will recover all its supply side VAT costs and probably also accounts for its input VAT (the VAT charged to the consumer, i.e. you and me) under the "reverse charge" rules.

The kindle price is lower than for the physical item but some of Amazon's costs are also lower and no doubt the publishers are constrained to "offer" discounts to Amazon which will affect (both) their margins - Amazon's positively, the publisher's negatively.

63:

I'm not sure that profits can be said to be lower because VAT is charged.

Take a product solid in two different countries for the same price -- US $10, or the local equivalent. (That's how the Kindle store works.) In one country, 20% of the cost to the customer is VAT. In the other, there's no sales tax. The original publisher gets paid a percentage of the net receipts, call it X. So that's X($10), or X($10 * 0.833). Which is greater?

64:

Mr. Stross; I purchased Rule 34 last night at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego. Mr. John Scalzi was in attendance and I did buy his book as well. I'm posting here to tell you that I did buy your book and to link to this video. Upon viewing it I immediately thought of Halting State and I wonder what you think of it, too?

I will apologize in advance if i/ it's not visible in the UK, or ii/ if somehow it's the sort of thing deemed libelous and you need to remove it, at which point only you and I will know about it I guess.

-m

65:

Ok. You are now saying that the publisher's profits are lower but I read your mail as saying that Amazon's profits are lower. Then I believe you and I are in agreement on this, but the point I was making is that Amazon's profits are not necessarily lower in a world where VAT is chargeable on its sales vis a world where VAT isn't chargeable.

66:

It's more like
US: 10$ + tax
EU: 10€ including tax
,isn't it?
Even at 20% VAT, with an exchange factor of 1.4 that's the better deal.

Got my hardcover(us) preorder on the 7th, guess amazon.de thought i'd prefere to receive it on release date, ...
I'll get to it once Quell quoting Kovacs, who is again filling the release slump, is out of the way.

67:

Excellent! And it's just a short(ish) stagger from home.

Meanwhile, here's a fabber making something almost illegal. There was an opening last Sunday in Haarlem of a show of 3-D printed sculpture.

I'd post it in the R34 forum, but I'm only a third of the way through the book.

68:

AIUI that would be illegal under UK laws these days, because less than 50% of it is flourescent coloured.

69:

Haha!! I just started reading "HS" so I'm not going to read any of these "R34" posts in case they inadvertently spoil something from "HS". Wake me when we start a different discussion, but congrats on the new publication!

70:

FINALLY got a copy in Daunt Books branch in Cheapside today - having been around a guided tour of some of the more interesting parts of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street

71:

The tricky part in the UK is that the VAT rate is zero for books on paper, 20% for ebooks.

A paper book will have had VAT charged on many of the "inputs"--paper, ink, heat and light for the publisher's office. That VAT will be deducted from the VAT owed. At some point in the chain it becomes a book, at zero rate, and the entity at that point gets all a refund of all the VAT which has been paid. The previous links are usually paying 20% of their margin.

That 20% of the margin filters through the chain for an ebook, and Amazon shouldn't be paying 20% of the end-user price. The VAT is accounted for on the business, and all the VAT Amazon pays on Inputs is deducted from all the VAT they owe the revenue on their Outputs. That's the way the forms work (I've filled them in often enough).

And Amazon is handling orders and payment for a lot of stuff which isn't zero-rated.

The thing is, there's an EU-defined exemption from VAT and import duties, for low-value items, which is why it can be so much cheaper to order small items from businesses in the Channel Islands. Oddly, some of the businesses which do this for mail order, running a subsidiary to avoid the taxes, sell the same goods in their bricks and mortar stores in the UK. And, even allowing for P&P costs, the price difference is a lot less than the 20% tax saving.

I don't know if that exemption can be applied to an ebook.

But it does seem that some EU countries have lower VAT rates for ebooks, and I don't see any obvious requirement for a business in, for instance, France, to charge UK VAT rates for anything they export to the UK from France.

There's an argument that some of the rights restrictions being applied to prevent sales across national borders within the EU are invalid under EU laws. I can see why Amazon might not want to get into an argument about that. But I wouldn't trust anything they choose to say about tax liabilities.

72:

Oh, just carve it from a bar of soap and black it up with shoe polish.

That was supposed to be good enough for Dillinger.

Although the gun was wood, and might have been smuggled in. Whatever it was, Dillinger pulled off one heck of a bluff that convinced guards that it was real.

73:

Any idea if your publishers will let customers not in the US or UK get the book on Kindle? Once again, living in Ireland, I can't get the e-Book version due to publishing restrictions.
I know it's out of your hands but it's incredibly frustrating. It's not like I can't get the paperback version in book stores here (or from online stores). It's just archaic publishing laws.
Any ideas if they're going to sort it out? I'm looking to give you money...

74:

Well, here's what George R. R. Martin said after Amazon accidentally shipped early copies of his embargoed book, "Dance With Dragons," the latest in the series begun with "Game of Thrones"

"If we find out who is responsible, we will mount his head on a spike."

(I typed this because it's very hard to see here up at the top.

75:

Mr. Stross - will there be an audio version? Mackenzie was a great reader!

76:

I was in the same boat as you Aidan. I went to the manage my kindle section and used the change address feature to virtually move to America. I was able to buy the book after this. Just go for Beverly Hills 90210!

77:

Well, it doesn't seem to have George any harm. Not this time.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 3, 2011 11:08 AM.

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